Wednesday, 26 October 2011

How Do We Know The World is Reaching 7 Billion? Talk to the Experts

7 Billion ActionsAs part of the 7 Day Countdown to a world of 7 billion people, we’re dedicating each day this week to a specific key topic relating to the 7 Billion Actions campaign.

Wednesday’s topic is Reproductive Health and Rights: The Facts of Life and we’ll be kicking it off with a virtual Facebook conversation with experts from the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This unit is in charge of preparing the official UN population projections that provide the basis for estimating the day when the world will welcome its 7 billionth citizen.


Our expert panel will be led by Mr. Gerhard Heilig, Chief of the Population Estimates and Projections Section and Ms. Ann Biddlecom, Chief of the Fertility Section, Population Division, with the discussion centering around their work counting seven billion people. They will also share their insights around best practices when it comes to government services on reproductive health.

WHEN: October 26th, 3:00-3:45 PM EST

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Submit your question under this Facebook note


The World at 7 Billion: Sustaining our Future

Sha Zukang on its way to Israel to teach jewish people why Rio+20 is "good for their business"

For the first time in Israel - preparatory meeting for Earth Summit 2012

24 Oct 2011
Israel will convene a preparatory meeting for the 2012 Earth Summit (Rio + 20), the UN Conference for Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
(Click here for story on Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

(Communicated by the MFA Spokesperson)

Israel will convene a preparatory meeting for the 2012 Earth Summit (Rio + 20), the UN Conference for Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The preparatory meeting is scheduled to take place on 25-27 October 2011 in the Maccabia Village in Ramat Gan.

At the 1992 Earth Summit, which was also held in Rio de Janeiro, world leaders discussed the possible impact of future development on the environment and adopted international environmental conventions, such as the Climate Change Convention. Ten years later, another world summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the purpose of boosting global commitment to sustainable development.

The Israeli meeting will be attended by senior representatives of countries from all over the world as well as from the UN Secretariat and UN agencies, headed by UN Under-Secretary-General and head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Mr. Sha Zukang. The meeting will deal with green agriculture as part of a green economy and as a tool for economic development and eradication of poverty.

The summary of this international meeting will be included in the draft of the outcome document of the Rio summit.

The meeting in Israel is being organized by MASHAV - Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in cooperation with UNDESA.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

In Run-Up to Rio+20, United Nations Opens New Office for Sustainable Development Research and Training in Incheon, Republic of Korea

Story @ (click here)

As the United Nations and the world are gearing up for Rio+20 — a major global conference that aims to accelerate efforts to promote sustainable development — the United Nations opened a new facility today in Incheon, Republic of Korea, that aims to assist developing countries. The new centre was formally launched at a ceremony in Seoul.

The new United Nations Office for Sustainable Development is a joint effort by the United Nations, the Korean Ministry of Environment, the city of Incheon and Yonsei University. The Office will be managed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and will serve as a training and research institution and a centre for pooling together sustainable development knowledge and making it usable and accessible through its knowledge portal.

Speaking at the launch of the new Office, the Secretary-General of Rio+20, Sha Zukang, said, “The establishment of the United Nations Office for Sustainable Development twenty years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development underscores the fact that the world’s commitment for sustainable development is as strong as ever.”

Mr. Sha said that in the short run the new office will support developing countries and major groups in their preparations for the Rio+20 Conference, while in the longer run, “it will contribute to advancing the implementation of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference.”

Housed at Yonsei University in the city of Incheon, the new Sustainable Development Office has already organized a seminar in August on the issue of energy for sustainable development.

The Office will provide a sustainable development knowledge portal uniquely integrating the three pillars of sustainable development — economic growth, improving the quality of life, and protecting the environment. It will also provide a training and capacity-building facility by organizing training programmes for national representatives and major groups from developing countries to advance the sustainable development agenda and implementation of sustainable development goals and targets. In addition, it will undertake policy research and seek synergies through mobilizing sustainable development research institutions and universities.

Rio+20 — the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012 — aims to galvanize action for sustainable development. Bringing together world leaders and representatives of business and civil society, the Conference will seek to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assessing progress and gaps in implementation of past agreements, and addressing new and emerging challenges. It has two thematic focuses: “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication”, and “the institutional framework for sustainable development”.

For more information, please contact Dan Shepard, Development Section, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.: +1 212 963 495, e-mail:

New UN facility on sustainable development opens in Republic of Korea

Story on UN-DPI

Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary- General for Economic and Social Affairs

19 October 2011 –
A new United Nations research and training facility designed to help poorer countries pursue sustainable development to accelerate economic growth while improving the quality of life and protecting the environment was inauguratedtoday in the Republic of Korea.

The UN Office for Sustainable Development, a joint effort of the UN, the Republic of Korea’s environment ministry, the city of Incheon and Yonsei University, was opened at a ceremony in Seoul, the country’s capital. It is based at the university in Incheon.

“The establishment of the UN Office for Sustainable Development 20 years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development underscores the fact that the world’s commitment for sustainable development is as strong as ever,” said Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Brazil in June next year.

[The new office] will contribute to advancing the implementation of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference.

The Office will be managed by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and will serve as a training and research institution, and a centre for pooling sustainable development knowledge and making it usable and accessible through a knowledge portal that will integrate the three pillars of sustainable development – economic growth, improving the quality of life, and protecting the environment.

Mr. Sha said that in the short term, the new office will support developing countries and major groups in their preparations for the Rio+20 Conference, while in the longer term, “it will contribute to advancing the implementation of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference.”

The centre will also organize training programmes for national representatives and major groups from developing countries to advance the sustainable development agenda. In addition, it will undertake policy research and seek synergies through mobilizing sustainable development research institutions and universities.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN agency joins campaign to boost sustainable development for world of 7 billion

UN asks Korea to share 'green experiences'

Story on

Sha Zukang, the U.N. undersecretarygeneral for economic and social affairs

By Kim Tae-jong

A senior U.N. official has praised South Korea for its efforts to boost its low-carbon, anti-pollution “green economy” in the context of sustainable development, asking the country to share its experience with the rest of the world.

“I think South Korea is a real champion,” Sha Zukang, the U.N. undersecretary-general for economic and social affairs, said during an interview Wednesday. “You have invested a lot of money (for green economy policies) and you have good policies and good legislation. This is strong evidence showing how determined South Korea and its people are in taking green growth seriously.”

He said there were not many countries which “are doing as good as South Korea” and many of its policies are very successful.

As an example, he noted the country’s success in reforesting bare mountains in a comparatively short period of time.

Sha came here to participate in the Asian and Pacific Regional Preparatory Meeting for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) that opened at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul Wednesday for a two-day run.

During the preparatory meeting, member states in the region aim to address key issues and come up with an agreed regional statement to submit to the UNCSD or Rio+20 Conference, which will be held in Brazil next year.

Sha, who also serves as secretary-general of the UNCSD, asked for an active role by South Korea in the Rio+20 Conference as well as the preparatory meeting.

“You have accumulated so much experience and lessons, and you have a good strategy. The experience and lessons are very useful for the rest of the world, particularly for developing countries,” he said.

To effectively disseminate the country’s experience, the U.N. decided to open an office for sustainable development in Incheon where people can have easy access to information, experience-based knowledge and any advice they need, he added.

Sha also noted the Asian and Pacific region is very unique in terms of the green economy and institutional framework.

“The Asian and Pacific region has been very proactive in supporting the concept of this green economy. They’ve increased investment and accumulated a lot of experience and lessons because all of them believe a green economy is the only way to reach our sustainable development goals.”

Since a consensus on this is emerging with agreed principles and plans, he emphasized that it is now time for implementation of necessary measures.

“We have principles and an agenda, and we don’t have another plan. These need to be implemented and details can be worked out later.”

Lastly, he asked for public support for a green economy, noting, “Without public awareness on the importance of sustainable development, green growth, or green economy is impossible.”

“Sustainable development is for the future, for our children and our children’s children because the current way of development, the path we’re taking today cannot last long. Development should be sustainable, otherwise, there will be disaster,” he concluded.

Speakers at UN conference stress reversing desertification to combat poverty

17 October 2011 –
Key speakers at the United Nations conference in the Republic of Korea on combating desertification today stressed that restoring degraded lands is crucial to addressing some global challenges, including poverty, food scarcity and the loss of the world’s biodiversity.

“If we protect, restore and manage land and soils we can tackle many challenges simultaneously, such as poverty, food and energy insecurity, biodiversity loss, climate change, forced migration and geopolitical instability,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a video message to the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Changwon, Republic of Korea.

“These issues are linked. The stakes are high, let us therefore work together to make intelligent land use a cornerstone of sustainable development,” Mr. Ban told the opening of the Conference’s High-level segment.

Many of the issues discussed related to the restoration of productive lands, including finding indicators to measure poverty and land degradation, sustainable land management and food security. Over the next 25 years land degradation could reduce global food production by as much as 12 per cent leading to a 30 per cent increase in world food prices, according to experts at the conference.

“None of us want the 21st Century to be one of recurrent food and humanitarian crises,” said Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, next year.

Luc Gnacadja, the UNCCD Executive Secretary, emphasized that desertification inevitably led to poverty and food insecurity. “Degraded lands mean degraded lives. But degraded lands are not dead lands; they are sick lands in need of stewardship. In that regard, there is a statement of hope coming from the grassroots level, which we must enhance and sustain.”

Kim Hwang-sik, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, pointed out that 12 million hectares of land – an area larger his country – is being degraded every year. “It is our responsibility to protect the environment and refrain from unsustainable land use practices,” he said.

As productive land declines in size, providing food for the 9 billion people projected inhabit the world in 2050 will require a 70 per cent increase in global food production.

Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, also via a video message, stressed the importance of linkages between issues that could be addressed through combating desertification and restoring degraded land.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN meeting on desertification discusses effective approach to land management

Monday, 17 October 2011

Republicans Advance Bill to Slash Funding for U.N.

By Jim Lobe*WASHINGTON, Oct 13, 2011 (IPS) - One day after a nation-wide poll found strong popular support for the United Nations, Republicans on a key Congressional foreign policy committee Thursday voted to cut U.S. funding for the world body if it did not implement major changes.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives voted 23-15 for the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act.

It would require Washington, among other provisions, to cut 50 percent of funding for the U.N. unless it converted to a voluntary contribution system permitting Washington to fund only those agencies and programmes "that advance U.S. interests and values".

The bill would also require Washington to quit the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC); withhold contributions to any U.N. agency or programme that upgrades the current "observer" status of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); and end U.S. contributions to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. body charged with aiding Palestinian refugees since 1949.

The bill's future is uncertain. A vote on the floor of the Republican-controlled House has not yet been scheduled. Even if it passed there, it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, and if in the unlikely event that it passed both houses, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would press President Barack Obama to veto it.

"This bill mandates actions that would severely limit the United States' participation in the United Nations, damaging longstanding treaty commitments under the United Nations Charter and gravely harming U.S. national interests, those of our allies, and the security of Americans at home and abroad," Clinton warned in a letter to the Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman and the bill's chief sponsor, Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Wednesday, as well as the committee's ranking Democrat, California Representative Howard Berman.

Despite its uncertain future, a number of analysts say it requires attention. "Even though this bill will likely not become law this year, it has to be taken seriously now because it sets the Republican agenda," said Don Kraus, CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), a national grassroots group.

"It could well reappear in 2013, when control of Congress and the White House may change and enactment of this bill will be more likely," he added.

The bill is one part of a multi-pronged assault by Republicans on the U.N. and some of its specialised agencies.

Just last week, for example, the Foreign Affairs Committee approved a measure to ban U.S. funding next year for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which the Republican right has long accused of promoting abortion and China's strict birth-control policies.

The ban will likely have to be reconciled with the Senate's approval of 40 million dollars for the agency in a general appropriations bill.

In August, a key Republican-led House appropriations committee sliced a total of 600 million dollars from the administration's 2012 request of 3.5 billion dollars for the U.N. and its peacekeeping operations. It also zeroed out U.S. contributions to UNHRC.

In addition, Republican lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to oppose U.N. plans to build a new office building at Turtle Bay in New York.

Since the U.N.'s founding in the last days of World War II, the U.S. has been its single biggest contributor. Washington currently funds 22 percent of the U.N.'s regular budget and some 27 percent of its peacekeeping budget. The U.N.'s total budget this year is 22.3 billion dollars, of which Washington has paid 6.4 billion dollars.

Opinion polls have shown substantial public support for the world body over many decades.

On the eve of Thursday's committee vote, a new survey of 900 registered voters released by the Better World Campaign found that nearly nine in ten (86 percent) said it was important that the U.S. maintain an active role within the U.N.

About two out of three said Washington should pay its dues to the U.N. (64 percent) and to U.N. peacekeeping operations on time and in full. It found that majorities of Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents, agreed with all three propositions.

Asked about legislation that would cut U.S. funding to the U.N., respondents in the survey, which was co-conducted by a Democratic and a Republican polling firm, found significant partisan differences. While 67 percent of Democrats said they would oppose cuts, Republicans and independents were more evenly split.

Half of Republicans said they would support such cuts, while 44 percent said they would oppose them. Among independents, 41 percent said they would support cuts, while a 51 percent majority opposed them.

"This polling once again shows that Americans do not want to see the United States go back into debt at the United Nations," said Timothy Wirth, a former senator and current president of the U.N. Foundation.

"While misguided legislation in Congress would cause America to forfeit our leadership at the U.N., we see time and time again that the majority of voters across the political spectrum believe the U.S. should have an active role within the U.N.," he added.

Last week, a group of 30 formerly top-ranking U.S. diplomats, military officers, and lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – also released a strong statement in support of the U.N. and in thinly veiled opposition to the pending bill.

"No doubt, U.S. contributions to the U.N. must be judicious and prudent: accountability, transparency and effectiveness for any organisation, including the U.N.," declared the letter, which was signed by a number of top Republicans, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Defence Secretary William Cohen, and half a dozen former senior Republican senators.

"At the same time, our ability to burden share with other nations helps defray costs, promote stability, and enhance the impact of our resources. Withholding U.S. funding weakens both our influence and support for our national priorities, while strengthening the hands of our adversaries," they warned.

But Ros-Lehtinen pressed ahead with her bill, introducing it with a litany of complaints about pending U.N. budget increases, its alleged anti-Israel bias and lack of transparency.

"We will never achieve lasting, sweeping reforms if the U.S. keeps paying in full what the U.N. dictates to us, with no consequences for the U.N.'s failures," she declared, noting that the main thrust of the bill would be to force the world body to shift 80 percent of its funding basis from mandatory dues to voluntary contributions within two years.

Failure to meet that deadline, according to the bill, would result in the U.S. withholding half of its annual contribution and continuing to do so until the 80 percent mark is achieved.

The bill would also impose new reporting requirements by the U.N. to ensure, among other things, that U.S. contributions are used "for the specific purposes for which (they were) made available by Congress".

*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

Clinton: Obama should veto U.N. bill


Hillary Clinton speaks at a press conference. | AP Photo
Hillary Clinton issued a strong warning about the bill to the Foreign Affairs Committee. | AP PhotoClose

Raising the specter of terrorism, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned congressional leaders on Wednesday that she would recommend a veto of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s bill redefining America’s relationship with the United Nations.

The controversial bill, due for a markup in Ros-Lehtinen’s committee on Thursday, would condition U.S. funding of the U.N. on conversion from an assessment-based dues system to one that operates on voluntary contributions from member nations.

“Withholding U.S. contributions and shifting to voluntary funding erode the concrete dividends of our leadership and undermine ongoing reform efforts at the United Nations,” Clinton wrote in letters — obtained by POLITICO — to Ros-Lehtinen and California Rep. Howard Berman, who is the top Democrat on the Committee.

It’s unlikely the bill would make it to President Barack Obama’s desk, but Clinton’s warning to the Foreign Affairs Committee was still strong.

“If implemented, the bill’s requirement to withhold 50 percent of U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations absent a shift to voluntary-only funding would undercut international collaboration in advancing core U.S. national security interests such as staunching nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, fully implementing sanctions on countries such as Iran and North Korea, preventing conflict around the globe, supporting elections in countries just undergoing transition to democracy, fighting pandemic disease, providing life-saving humanitarian relief to countries such as Haiti, and supporting peaceful transitions in places such as the new nation of South Sudan,” she wrote. “Through international cooperation, the United States reaps real security benefits that make Americans safer and more secure.”

That list hits several areas close to the hearts of various groups of Republicans, including pro-Israel lawmakers who take a hard line against Iran and religious conservatives who support international humanitarian missions.

At a time when U.S. dollars are scarce, many Republicans have become increasingly critical of American funding of an international body that is often at odds with U.S. interests. The issue has taken on a partisan tinge in Congress, and, despite several months of efforts, Ros-Lehtinen has been unable to find a Democratic cosponsor.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged that the Senate is unlikely to act on the bill and that the president would not sign it. Still, she said, it’s important to send a message to the U.N. that it must change its ways, and she has asked GOP leaders to schedule the bill for a floor vote.

“That’s our request, and my leadership knows that’s the request,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I’m persistent.”

GOP leaders have stopped short of making a commitment to put the bill on the floor.

“Leadership is continuing to work closely with Chairman Ros-Lehtinen regarding her U.N. reform bill and timing for floor consideration,” said Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

One factor that may hurt Ros-Lehtinen’s effort: Despite several provisions aimed at punishing the U.N. for its treatment of Israel, pro-Israel groups have stayed on the sidelines. The most prominent of those organizations, AIPAC, typically supports only legislation that has at least some backing in both parties.

Still, a handful of groups, including the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition, issued an action alert asking members to contact lawmakers in favor of the Ros-Lehtinen bill..

The bill would block U.S. funding of any United Nations entity that upgrades the status of the Palestinians before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved, ban contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees until U.N. policies are changed, and both prohibit the U.S. from sitting on the Human Rights Council and withhold a portion of U.S. funds based on the HRC budget until a series of criteria — including the termination of a permanent investigation into Israel’s human rights record — are met.

It’s possible that Israel could face an international backlash from U.S. action to punish the U.N. as part of a bill that includes many provisions specific to Israel.

Though Ros-Lehtinen is one of Israel’s biggest supporters in Congress, she said she would move forward without the political force of the pro-Israel community.

“I’m not a member of the Knesset,” she said of the Israeli legislature.

In addition to State Department opposition to the bill, Clinton wrote in her letter that the Justice Department would also make clear its concerns in a future communication to the committee.

Calling the U.N. “indispensable” to advancing the goals of the U.S., Clinton wrote that “should this bill be presented to the president, I will recommend that he veto it.”

Friday, 14 October 2011

U.N. Push to Stem Misconduct Flounders

The Wall Street Journal (Click for story)

An American-backed drive to curb misconduct at the United Nations is faltering, blighted by bureaucracy and accusations of retaliation against whistle-blowers.

Launched in December 2005 with advice from U.S. officials, the reform initiative was supposed to protect U.N. employees who exposed wrongdoing. The U.N. pledged this would ensure the "highest standards of integrity."

Since then, the organization has been hit by numerous allegations of misconduct, from claims that U.N. peacekeepers in Congo traded guns for gold with rebels to accusations of corruption by U.N. employees in Kosovo.

Instead of a streamlined system to process complaints, the U.N. has set up no fewer than eight separate ethics offices, each with its own guidelines, deadlines for claims and jurisdiction. Other parts of the U.N. also handle allegations of misconduct, including an ombudsman's office.

"The U.N. isn't serious about cleaning up its act," says James Wasserstrom, a former U.N. official in Kosovo who, after becoming a whistle-blower himself last year, was placed under investigation by the U.N. A 25-year veteran of the U.N., Mr. Wasserstrom, an American, was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and recently filed a retaliation complaint with a U.N. appeals panel.

The U.N., says Mr. Wasserstrom, "uses the whistle-blowing program to get its most ethical staff to stick their heads above ground in order to chop them off."

The U.N. denies this and says it doesn't tolerate retaliation against staff members who report misdeeds. The U.N. is "very, very diligent in pursuing" wrongdoing, says Angela Kane, the organization's under-secretary-general for management. She says there has been a "great culture change" in the organization.

The U.N. declined to discuss individual cases of whistle-blowers who have alleged retaliation. On the issue of misconduct in general, the organization says that a number of senior officials have been punished after reports of wrongdoing by colleagues.

The system for rooting out misconduct mirrors the organization as a whole -- a sprawling array of fiefdoms. U.S. officials have been frustrated by the plethora of separate bodies monitoring what they hoped would be a unified ethics policy.

Canadian attorney Robert Benson says that when he arrived at the U.N. in May 2007 he assumed that his New York-based Ethics Office had jurisdiction over the entire organization. But he soon learned it only oversaw the U.N. Secretariat -- the U.N.'s main administrative body. Assorted agencies and funds opted to set up their own ethics bureaus.

"I wasn't a student of the United Nations," said Mr. Benson in an interview. "Would it be better to have one office? Absolutely."

The U.N. says it has no immediate plans to consolidate the various ethics bureaus, but it is finalizing one set of ethical standards to be followed by all its agencies.

The U.N. has been dogged for decades by complaints of corruption and lack of accountability. Pressure for change rose sharply after a 2004 scandal over the U.N.-administered oil-for-food program in Iraq. Then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan initiated a series of reforms, including a rule that U.N. officials disclose any gifts worth more than $250. The previous limit had been $10,000. The U.N. also set up Mr. Benson's office to foster "a culture of ethics, transparency and accountability."

Unlike businesses and other private organizations with operations around the world, the U.N. is not typically subject to national laws and has its own internal justice mechanism. This system, which dates from the 1940s, consists of various ad hoc panels and the appeals board, a tribunal staffed by U.N. officials.

A group of legal experts convened by the U.N. in 2006 declared the setup "outmoded, dysfunctional and ineffective." The U.N. promised to replace it with a new system staffed by professional judges. It is supposed to start up in January but so far judges haven't been appointed. The U.N. blames this in part on member states, which delayed approving rules that would govern the new arrangement.

Reports of Corruption

In February of last year, Mr. Wasserstrom, the American whistle-blower, began making reports to New York about mismanagement and possible corruption in Kosovo's energy sector on the part of senior U.N. officials in the formerly Serbian-controlled region.

He provided no concrete evidence of graft. But in communications with the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the U.N.'s main investigative unit, Mr. Wasserstrom passed on information relating to a proposed new power plant known as Kosovo C. This included claims that U.N. officials were taking kickbacks. He says he had "no way of knowing if the information was true or not, but it was at the very least very worrying and needed to be investigated."

At the time, Mr. Wasserstrom was the head of a U.N. office in Kosovo that monitored the electricity utility and other publicly owned enterprises. He also alleged that the U.N. Kosovo mission was colluding with local politicians to undermine the independence of publicly owned enterprises.

The OIOS declined to comment on the outcome of an investigation into the corruption and mismanagement concerns raised by Mr. Wasserstrom.

At the same time that OIOS was looking into Mr. Wasserstrom's allegations, the U.N.'s personnel department in Kosovo announced what it said was a long-scheduled decision: Mr. Wasserstrom's job was about to be eliminated.

Facing unemployment, he signed a contract to work as a private consultant for Kosovo's main airport and the region's telecommunications agency. Senior U.N. officials in Kosovo -- the same people he wanted investigated -- accused him of violating procedure and placed him under investigation for conflict of interest.

Detained at the Kosovo border by U.N. police in June last year, Mr. Wasserstrom says he had his American passport seized and car searched. His apartment in the Kosovo capital Pristina was also searched. Investigators sealed off his office, confiscated his computer and placed a "wanted poster" at entrances to the U.N. mission's Kosovo headquarters. It featured a mug shot of Mr. Wasserstrom and an order barring the American from the premises. Official U.N. documents on the matter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal confirm this account.

Cleared of Wrongdoing

"They treated me like a common criminal," says Mr. Wasserstrom. After an investigation lasting nearly 11 months, he was cleared earlier this year of any wrongdoing. Mr. Wasserstrom in the meantime filed a retaliation complaint with Mr. Benson's Ethics Office in New York. The U.N. says that 45 people similarly complained of retaliation over the 12 month period up to this July and that 18 of these cases warranted preliminary review.

In a letter to Mr. Wasserstrom in April, Mr. Benson said that while some of the measures taken against him "appeared to be excessive" and involved "investigative failures," a detailed study of his treatment by U.N. investigators "did not find any evidence that these activities were retaliatory."

Mr. Benson says he's not allowed to comment on individual cases. The OIOS, which investigated Mr. Wasserstrom's claims, says that retaliation is a "very specific type of conduct" and differs from other forms of mistreatment. In response to written questions, it did not address Mr. Wasserstrom's case directly but noted that "abuse of authority and harassment" can also flow from "interpersonal problems" and other issues unrelated to retaliation.

Going Outside the System

Arguing that the U.N. can't police itself properly, a few U.N. employees have sought legal redress for grievances outside the U.N. system.

One of these is Cynthia Brzak, an American U.N. staffer in Geneva. Ms. Brzak has been battling the organization since 2004, when she complained of sexual harassment by her boss, Ruud Lubbers, who was then head of the U.N.'s refugee agency.

The OIOS investigated and, in an initially secret report, found "serious acts of misconduct." The then-secretary-general, Mr. Annan, however, told Ms. Brzak in a letter that her complaint could not be "sustained." The OIOS report was leaked to the media. Mr. Lubbers, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, stepped down in 2005.

Ms. Brzak in the meantime complained that she was suffering retaliation -- including threats to fire her -- as a result of her initial complaint. She found an American lawyer to take the matter outside the U.N. and into the U.S. judicial system.

A New York district court in April dismissed her suit, saying it agreed with the U.N.'s defense that the court couldn't delve into a matter because of the international organization's immunity. Ms. Brzak has appealed.

The "only hope of accountability," says Ms. Brzak, is "to pierce their immunity." Until that happens, she says, "they will set up ethics offices and set up layers and layers of fog that you have to fight your way through just to go nowhere."

Former UN official presses $1 million demand


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An American demanded $1 million in damages from the United Nations on Wednesday, telling a U.N. tribunal that he was arrested by U.N. police, was humiliated by "wanted posters" posted at his office and was fired after he said his U.N. colleagues in Kosovo might be taking kickbacks.

James Wasserstrom says the actions were retaliation for his speaking up.

"What on Earth went on here, and why?" Judge Goolam Meeran, a professional jurist from India, asked. "There are certain lines of inquiry here that trouble me."

The case is a high-profile test case for the U.N.'s new court system for employee issues. The independent tribunal replaces the secret, delay-plagued system that legal experts in 2006 called "dysfunctional" and critics said heavily favored U.N. management.

Under a whistleblower protection policy signed by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2005, all U.N. employees are to be offered protection from retaliation.

But Wasserstrom says his job with the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo was eliminated in 2007 after he reported on colleagues he suspected were taking kickbacks from local officials in the energy sector.

He says his apartment was searched and his office was taped off for months while the mission investigated him for what it called conflict of interest, after Wasserstrom signed a consulting contract to start after his U.N. job ended.

The U.N. Ethics Office at the time said the treatment of Wasserstrom "seemed to be excessive," but it found no evidence that the actions were retaliatory.

Two Ethics Office employees who handled the Kosovo case, Susan John and Robert Benson, told the tribunal on Wednesday that the actions against Wasserstrom had seemed "disproportionate," but they maintained there was no sign of retaliation.

A decision in the case seemed unlikely Wednesday.

The U.N. has argued in legal documents that the court has no jurisdiction over the case because the ethics office is independent and does not answer to the Secretary-General.

Wasserstrom worked for the U.N. for 25 years. He seeks more than $1 million for lost wages, compensation for defamation and mental distress.

"What happened destroyed his U.N. career," said his attorney, Mary Dorman.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Are donor contributions to the U.N. smart investments for the U.S.?


Published October 11, 2011


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United Nations Building New York

Is the multibillion-dollar U.S. annual payout to the United Nations a good investment? The Obama administration says it is a smart move. The facts, however, suggest otherwise.

The smart investment claim was made most recently by Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, the branch of State that includes U.N. oversight, during last month’s opening session of the U.N. General Assembly.

While arguing that “the U.N. helps sustain the global economic landscape that U.S. companies depend on,” Brimmer also declared that “the U.N. spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year procuring goods and services from American companies. They spend more money here than in any other country in the world -- more than $1.5 billion last year alone.”

Summarized Brimmer in a State Department blog posting: “The time and money we put into the U.N. -- regardless of the broader contributions to our national health and security -- comes right back to us when the U.N. buys American goods and services.”

Click here to read the blog post.

The truth is, not so much.

Brimmer’s source was the annual U.N. compilation of its procurement activities worldwide -- the amount of money the sprawling global organization spends buying goods and services around the world.

According to the 2010 procurement summary, the U.S. did, in fact, get $1.5 billion in U.N. procurement contracts this year, making it the U.N.’s top source of supply in the world.

But when it comes to overall return on investment, the U.S. procurement bounty looks different --and worse.

According to U.S. government figures, Washington gave $7.7 billion to the widely varying branches of the U.N. global system last year -- meaning that for every dollar the U.S. put in, it got about 19.7 cents worth of procurement back.

Compare that, for example, with Britain, which also ranks traditionally just below the U.S. as a U.N. donor nation. According to British government figures, London contributed about $652.8 million to the U.N. system during its 2010-2011 fiscal year (at current exchange rates). Atop that, Britain contributed about $627 million to U.N. peacekeeping in 2010, for a total of about $1.06 billion.

But Britain got about $490 million in procurement business in 2010. That’s roughly 46.2 cents on every dollar given to the U.N. -- more than double the U.S. return, in Brimmer’s terms.

The British return on investment was also better than that of the French, who, according to their U.N. website, spent at least $1.3 billion on the U.N. in 2010, and took in about $443.8 million in procurement sales. That works out to about 34.8 cents per dollar spent. Even so, the French ratio is still nearly twice as good as its U.S. counterpart.

The only major developed country that gets a slightly worse procurement return on its U.N. investment isGermany, which contributed $618.7 million to the U.N. in 2009 (the most recent available year on the U.N.’s website,), plus another $577 million for peacekeeping. Total: $1.2 billion. According to U.N. procurement statistics, Germany sold about $181.2 million worth of goods and services to the U.N. in 2009, or about 15.2 cents on every dollar contributed.

On the other hand, the U.S. does much, much better than Norway, one of the other top contributors to the U.N. system, which handed more than $1.2 billion in 2008, according to the Norwegian government. The Norwegian share of peacekeeping expenses that year amounted to about $65.4 million. According to U.N. procurement statistics, Norway got $46.4 million in U.N. business that year -- or about 4 cents for every dollar spent.

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found on Twitter @GeorgeRussell.